If ever a musician personified what’s happened to classic postwar Chicago blues since 60s, it’s Abe “Little Smokey” Smothers. He’s been playing in Chicago, off and on, since 1956, including a two-year stint with Howlin’ Wolf. Endowed with a rock-solid rhythmic sense and a tone that modulates from a sublime murmur to a balls-out Saturday night scream, Smothers consistently comes up with straight-ahead licks that are extroverted enough to rock any contemporary house to its rafters. Yet he seems somehow unable to expand his reputation beyond a handful of in-the-know aficionados. These days tasteful players like Smothers who carry on a traditional style because of the eloquence and subtleties it encourages, not because it’s trendy to become born-again retrograde all too often can’t get heard. Here’s hoping that his appearance on Elvin Bishop’s new release will expose him to a wider audience, although it’s infuriating to think that playing on a pop bluesman’s record is still what it takes for such an exemplary artist to finally get his due. Friday and Saturday, Rosa’s, 3420 W. Armitage; 342-0452.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.